Court Appearances After a First Offense DC DUI
If you are facing a drunk driving charge for the first time, it can be intimidating. A DC DUI attorney familiar with first offenses can be your guide and advocate during this worrying time.
First-time DUI charges in DC are typically heard before a magistrate judge in DC Superior Court. They are prosecuted by the DC Attorney General’s Office as opposed to the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. That typically handles crimes in DC such a assaults, guns, drugs, homicides, and domestic violence.
What Happens at a First Court Appearance?
When a person is arrested on a DUI, they are released the same day a few hours later with the citations from the court. At the first court hearing, also called an arraignment, the person appears in court with their lawyer and the judge. The courtroom clerk announces the charges and reads the person their rights. Their attorney starts the client’s constitutional rights, reports the discovery, requests that the person be released on their own recognizance and requests a new date to come back.
Where Do They Take Place?
The initial appearance is when a person is released with a citation and then re-appears in one of three magistrate courtrooms on the first floor of the courthouse. When the person is arrested and is not released and goes to court the next day, that takes place at the basement level of the courthouse in the courtrooms in DC.
According to DC law, any individual arrested for their first DUI offense is not eligible for a jury trial. This is because the charge only carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine. Instead, an individual’s first DUI offense in DC court will be heard by a judge.
However, when a person is charged with a DUI for the second time, he or she is eligible for a jury trial. This is because the maximum penalty is increased from 180 days to one year. Due to a maximum penalty of more than six months, an individual is eligible for a jury trial.
When it comes to sentencing, DC judges are often not eager to give first-time offenders jail time unless they are required by law to do so. That means that in cases where a person has never been in trouble before, does not have a significantly high blood alcohol content, and doesn’t have severe aggravating factors like a major traffic accident that has resulted in people being injured, judges are unlikely to sentence jail time. Generally, they will place people on probation instead.
Prosecutors in the District of Columbia are aggressive when handling first time DUI charges at court depending on the particulars of any individual case. They will ask questions similar to:
- Was there a traffic accident?
- What is the blood alcohol content?
- Was anyone injured?
Those factors weigh pretty heavily when someone is facing a DUI trial in DC, even for a first time drunk driving offense.
For a first time DUI where the person has a low blood alcohol content and there was no accident and no injuries, the client should take the steps advised by their attorney to obtain a good result.
When a person starts getting into second and third offenses, judges and prosecutors are much more aggressive. It takes a strong and concerted effort by the attorney to keep that person from serving jail time.
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has a process that is totally separate from the court case. One of the main things that can affect someone’s driving privileges is whether chemical tests were done on their urine, blood, or breath samples after being arrested for a DUI. If a person refuses to take a chemical test, the DMV can suspend that person’s DC driving privileges for about a year.
If the person takes the test and is charged with a first time DUI, that may result in a conviction by guilty plea or a finding of guilt through trial. The person typically receives a six months suspension of their DC driving privileges.
However, if a person goes to trial and wins or their case is dismissed, the DMV does not have to honor that result. Fortunately, usually they do and there is no suspension of the person’s driving privileges. However, that is not a guarantee.
Challenging a Licence Suspension
When a person is arrested and charged with a DC traffic alcohol offense and they have a Wahington, DC license, they must sign up for a suspension hearing at the DMV within 10 days.
When the person has an out of state license, they have 15 days to schedule the suspension hearing. If they do not arrange for a suspension hearing within that time frame, their driving privileges are automatically suspended by the District of Columbia.
A police officer is required to appear and prove that a person’s privilege should be suspended. If the police officer does not attend the hearing, the process is held in abeyance until the court case is resolved.
Role of the Judge in an Initial Appearance
In addition to the client, a defense lawyer, a prosecutor, and a judge are present. The judge’s role is to preside over the arraignment and to set release conditions. When a person is arrested and then appears in court the next day, in courtroom C-10 the original judge is not presiding. If the person appears in a magistrate courtroom, that judge may preside over the remainder of their case, unless the client elects to go to an associate judge.
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